Summer will soon be here which means it’s time for some fun in the sun. While enjoying those summer activities under the sun’s warmth, it’s important to protect your skin from damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays. The sun’s UV rays cause damage to the skin’s DNA, which controls skin cell growth. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. with more than two million Americans diagnosed every year. In fact, there are more new cases of skin cancer each year than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lifetime.
The following tips will help protect your skin and keep you safe in the sun:1. Use sunscreen.Most experts suggest using a sunscreen that provides a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. The higher the SPF number means the greater amount of protection. Read and follow the instructions on the label and use sunscreen generously over the parts of your body exposed to the sun. Even water-resistant sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours and usually more frequently if you are sweating or swimming. Make sure you check the expiration date of your sunscreen products — they might be less effective if they are more than two years old. 2. Wear protective clothing.Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs. Instead of baseball caps and visors, wear wide-brimmed hats to protect your face, ears and neck. You can also look for sunproof swimsuits, shirts and sportswear. Tightly woven fabrics protect better than loosely woven fabrics.3. Avoid the sun during the midday hours.UV rays are most intense between the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If possible, stay inside during that time. You should also be aware that UV rays can pass through water to some degree and are present even on cloudy days. 4. Wear sunglasses.Sunglasses are an important part of a person’s summer wardrobe, but it’s not all about fashion. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the sun’s UV rays can cause damage to the eyes and diminish eyesight over time. Try to wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays, with a rating of 99-100 percent of UV rays blocked.5. Protect children from the sun.Sunscreen can be applied to children older than six months. Severe, frequent sunburns experienced at a younger age can increase the risk of skin cancer later in life. Infants should be protected from direct sunlight, wear hats and use protective clothing, but be sure they don’t overheat.
6. Examine your skin.Take the time to inspect your skin and be aware of any freckles, moles, bumps or birthmarks. Use the A-B-C-D-E test, developed by the American Academy of Dermatology, to determine if you should be concerned about any changes to your skin.* A stands for asymmetrical shape. Do you have a mole or growth on the skin that is shaped irregularly?* B stands for irregular border. Does your mole or growth have an abnormal or notched border?* C stands for changes in color. Does your mole or growth have multiple colors or an unequal distribution of color.* D stands for diameter. Do you have a newly discovered growth or mole larger than one-quarter inch in diameter?* E stands for evolving. Has your mole or growth changed over time in terms of color or shape? Is there any new bleeding or itchiness?If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you should speak with your health care provider and have your mole or skin growth evaluated right away.
Melanie A. Dixon, M.D., is a Mayo Clinic Health System family physician with a focus on skin care. Dr. Dixon will give a Speaking of Health presentation on skin cancer and sun protection that is open to the public in the lower level conference center of the hospital at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato on Monday, May 20 at 7 p.m. For more information, please go to mayoclinichealthsystem.org.